Considering a Baofeng Handheld Radio?  Read this First!

Craig Carnahan - N7LB

It’s no secret that many folks new to radio consider the Baofeng UV-5R series of handheld radios their standard “go-to” communication product, primarily due to their low initial cost.  There are, however, several reasons why you may want to reconsider that choice if higher performance - or any of the additional features listed below - are important to you:

  • Baofeng is not an ISO9001 certified quality control manufacturer, their build quality varies from radio to radio.   Many Baofeng radios fail their one and only factory QC test and get a different factory sticker (on left in picture) but are still shipped to the U.S. by a wide variety of Chinese sellers.  The only indication of pass or fail is the factory sticker located under the radio battery, but the sticker doesn’t list what item(s) failed during the Baofeng QC testing on that radio, nor are those issues “fixed” before leaving the factory.

  • Baofeng UV-5R radios don’t have an actual S-meterWhat you see on the display is 5-bars of signal strength (regardless of the actual signal) or nothing at all.  That means you (or your family) could easily be getting farther out of range without even realizing it, as the radio’s “meter” will always show 5-bars or nothing at all.

  • Baofeng radios can have a feature in one version of the radio and lose that feature in a newer version of that same radio.  For example, all UV-5R radios used to be able to scan for a PL (CTCSS) or DCS code on an incoming signal - yet lost that feature in newer versions of that same radio model.  Being able to scan for those codes easily allows an owner to identify a PL or DCS code being used on a repeater input or for simplex use.

 

  • Nearly all Baofeng UV-5R series radios ship with a nearly useless 4.625” antenna.  All better performing radios typically ship with a 6.75” to 8.375” standard antenna, which results in greater signal strength at the receiving end of the transmission.  Many handheld TYT radios ship with two antennas standard in the box, a 6.75” and a 15” antenna.  Optional longer antennas for Baofeng radios are available, but for an additional cost.

 

  • Baofeng radios can not be programmed in Alpha (named) memory mode from the keypad.  Keypad programming is limited to Frequency only (Alpha memories can be entered on Baofeng radios via computer software).  This means you can’t “name” your frequency on your display from the keypad (ORD 736 for example instead of just showing 147.360).  Many other radios can do Alpha programming from the keypad, which can be helpful in field programming of a radio, or if you don’t want to memorize what 128 different frequencies represent on your radio.

  • Baofeng does not offer a compandered audio circuit (think of it as a speech processor for FM).  Compandered audio doesn’t change your power level, but it does increase your audio level at the receiving end of your transmission, thus making you (or a family member) easier to hear and better understood at a distance.  Most higher quality radios offer some type of compandered audio circuit, current Baofeng handheld radios do not.

  • Baofeng handheld radios don’t offer any type of audio inversion (or scrambling) on your transmit signal.  Many (certainly not all) higher quality radios do (including several TYT and Wouxun model radios).  Scrambling your audio isn’t legal on U.S. amateur radio bands, but audio inversion is legal on other bands within the U.S., and is used when you want to keep your conversations private.

  • Most other radio manufacturers ship their radios with 2300 to 3600 mAh batteries (larger capacity is better as it allows longer conversations or use in the field), yet Baofeng typically ships their UV-5R series radios with a smaller 1800 mAh battery.  Optional 3800 mAh extended batteries for Baofeng radios are available, but for an additional cost.

  • Baofeng is currently the only major radio supplier that uses the cheaper SMA-Female connector as their standard connector choice, meaning that nearly all other handheld antennas on the market won’t work on a Baofeng radio without an optional extra cost adapter.  There are basically three types of antenna connections available for the vast majority of handheld radios (geared toward the consumer market), BNC (usually found on older design amateur and commercial radios), SMA-Male (the most popular by far), and SMA-Female. 

  • The UV-5R series is normally marketed as a 5-watt radio, but that power level is measured by Baofeng on VHF only, UHF rated channel output drops to 4 watts.  Power levels on Baofeng radios that failed their single factory QC test can be even lower.  In comparison, the TYT TH-UV8000D V4 radio (pictured below) measured 10.1 watts output on VHF and 9.74 watts output on UHF.

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